Tag Archives: 1981

Blogalongabond – For Your Eyes Only: This Time it’s Personal

Before setting out for revenge, you first dig two graves” – Chinese proverb.

Thus speaks Roger Moore’s James Bond to the beautiful and bereaved Melina Havelock as she prepares to avenge the murder of her parents by mysterious henchmen. As with the latest instalment in the franchise Quantum of Solace, revenge is a major theme of 1981’s For Your Eyes Only, a film which consciously sets out to reject the extravagance of its predecessor (Moonraker) while providing its hero with something approaching a back story.

We begin, as ever, with a short but key pre-title sequence, in which we find 007 standing beside the grave of his late wife. This may come as something of a surprise to non-Bond aficionados, who might understandably hold an image of Bond as the ultimate bachelor boy (Cliff Richard notwithstanding). However, we were introduced to Teresa “Tracy” Bond in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, who was murdered on the orders of arch-villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld within hours of her nuptials. Just as the demise of Vesper Lynd at the end of 2006’s Casino Royale provided context for Bond’s driven, misogynistic coldness, this early reminder of his dark past offers an explanation for the revenge thriller to come in FYEO.

Our first taste of that which is best served cold comes immediately afterwards, as Bond is entrapped in a remote control helicopter at the mercy of the very same Blofeld (or so we assume – legal complications left the producers unable to use that character’s name and we never see his face; however, his bald head, wheelchair and clear affection for cats give the game away). Sitting atop a tall London building, which we can only assume has outstanding wheelchair access, “Blofeld” produces his usual over-egging of the assassination pudding, allowing 007 to regain control of the situation and dump the villain down a Beckton chimney stack.

John Glen, making his directorial debut, clearly realised that attempting to top the unparalleled absurdity of Moonraker (see PPH passim) would be a fool’s errand, and the plot of FYEO is infinitely more low-key, concentrating on character development and several very impressive stunt sequences, literally bringing the series back down to earth. A British spy ship is sunk, allowing a top secret system which controls the Royal Navy’s entire fleet of Polaris submarines to fall into unscrupulous hands. Bond is sent to investigate, at which point he crosses paths with Melinda (Carole Bouquet) who has already begun her campaign of revenge, taking out a suspect with a crossbow (apparently the weapon of choice for both female assassins and teenage psychopaths).

One signal of the shift in emphasis from previous films is the sheer lack of sex in FYEO. Far from bedding every skirt that moves, Bond is gently affectionate and almost fatherly towards Melina. At one point, faced with a young, naked blonde in his hotel bed, he insists she dresses and leaves the room. The blonde is sexually-terrifying Olympic ice-skating hopeful Bibi Dahl, played with perfect annoyance by real-life skater Lynn-Holly Johnson (not to be confused with the singer from Frankie Goes To Hollywood); her relationship with Bond is fairly absurd, but thankfully brief. The only woman with whom 007 actually becomes ‘intimate’ is fake-Countess Lisl von Schlaf (Casandra Harris), who amusingly transpires to hail from Liverpool. Even in this case, we are spared the gory details, though the Countess soon falls foul of the Bond curse as the victim of a beach buggy hit-and-run (Bond fact: at the time of filming, Harris was married to future 007, Pierce Brosnan).

Also mercifully missing from the film are Moonraker’s raised-eyebrow ‘humour’ and punning asides, along with that film’s globe-trotting location switches and over-reliance on gadgetry. Proof of this comes when Bond’s Lotus explodes, leaving him and Melina to flee armed pursuers in a battered 2CV – a car usually favoured by 1970s schoolteachers – during an enjoyable chase through the Spanish countryside. Indeed, the less over-the-top nature of the stunt set pieces is a strength of FYEO, with a lengthy pursuit through the Alps particularly impressive. The sequence sees Bond pack at least five Winter Olympic events into the space of ten minutes and should perhaps have seen the film re-titled The Spy Who Went Out in the Cold. Throughout the scene, 007 is pursued by lackeys on motorcycles, surely not the ideal mode of transport when going off-piste.

The major weakness of FYEO is the villains themselves who are fairly underwhelming. Bond’s main nemesis is Greek businessman Aris Kristatos, played by Julian Glover (earlier pipped by Moore for the role of Bond himself). Though a fine actor, Glover doesn’t bring the necessary maniacal oddness that we have come to expect of a super-villain, while the fact that his character is looking to make a quick buck from the cold war arms race, rather than achieve galactic domination, is another example of the film’s reigned-in ambition. This makes the arrival of the reliably larger than life Topol, as Kristatos’s pistachio-obsessed former colleague Milos Columbo, extremely welcome.

FYEO reaches its climax with another stunt sequence; having tracked Kristatos down to a mountain-top monastery, Bond and his companions proceed to scale an enormous cliff face in order to reach him. One is tempted to suggest that, with national security at stake, MI6 could have sent a fleet of SAS helicopters in to reclaim their hardware, rather than four Greeks in a basket, but that would be churlish. Perhaps we should just put it down to cuts in defence spending (though evidence suggests that this could be solved by simply sending 007 to a casino with what remains in the Treasury’s coffers)?

Despite the relatively straight tone of the film, perhaps the most bizarre scene in the entire series comes at the conclusion of FYEO, as our hero is patched through to the Prime Minister. Rather than portray a fictional character, impressionist Janet Brown is employed to impersonate Margaret Thatcher in a comic vignette involving husband Dennis, some biscuits and a talking parrot, which seems more suited to Not the Nine O’Clock News than a spy drama. Limited space prevents me from making any comments about Maggie proving the most convincing villain in the film.

Overall, this is mid-table Bond, never touching the heights of the Connery years, but avoiding the self-parody of Moonraker. The action is returned to sea and slopes and is all the better for it while Moore, despite advancing age, gives one of his better performances. The impressive stunt sequences aside, perhaps the most interesting things about For Your Eyes Only are the themes of revenge and the attempt to present Bond as a more rounded character, something which would anticipate the wounded, human secret agent that Daniel Craig has brought to our screens in recent episodes.

Blogalongabond is the ingenious brainchild of blogger The Incredible Suit.

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Characters that I love #8 – Griffin Dunne as Jack Goodman – An American Werewolf In London (John Landis, 1981)

Griffin Dunne as Jack

Almost thirty years on from its initial release, John Landis’ culture-clash horror An American Werewolf in London remains a deeply odd movie. The film’s premise is classic genre stuff; man bitten by wolf turns into werewolf at full moon, and goes on killing rampage. The waters of an ostensibly simple tale are muddied, however, by a series of bizarre tonal shifts from broad comedy to dark psychological thriller, spatial dislocation (why, oh why, does David end up in a London hospital when he’s attacked in Yorkshire?) and a bracingly abrupt ending that verges on the upsetting.

Werewolf begins with two young American tourists traversing the terrain of the Yorkshire moors. David (David Naughton) is clearly the more enthusiastic traveller of the two, with Jack (Griffin Dunne) ill-at-ease in unfamiliar surroundings, betraying his disdain with a stream of sarcastic asides, and more interested in discussing his preferred female conquests. Clad in primary-colour bodywarmers and sporting similarly lustrous brown hair, they enter an ominous pub named The Slaughtered Lamb seeking refuge and sticking out like proverbial sore thumbs. The pub, populated by a collection of stony-faced, flat-cap clad locals (including Kes‘ despotic PE teacher Brian Glover and, in a very early screen appearance, Bottom‘s Rik Mayall), offers them a particularly stony reception. After a terse exchange, they are cast out into the moors and before long, are lost. Suddenly, Jack is mercilessly savaged by a venomous lycanthrope who soon goes after David but only succeeds in injuring him. That, as they say, is that for Jack. Well, it should be, but in a masterstroke from writer-director John Landis (also responsible for Michael Jackson’s visually resemblant Thriller) Jack is soon to return to haunt David as a particularly laid-back corpse languishing in the afterlife.

Special Effects guru Rick Baker goes to work on Griffin Dunne

Already sardonic in the land of the living, Jack becomes positively louche in limbo. In his first post-death appearance, he pays David a visit at his hospital bedside, livid with blood and with skin flapping from his neck, casually urging David to kill himself to avoid any further wolf-based mayhem, and to free him from oblivion. David can’t decide whether Jack’s appearance is merely another of his frequent fever dreams, and is even less certain when he appears for a second time, in a state of further decomposition, at the house of his new girlfriend (his nurse, played stiffly by Jenny Agutter). David fails to heed his friend’s warnings and embarks on a series of murderous jaunts in the form of the wolf (including one memorably tense sequence shot in an eerily empty Tottenham Court Road tube station).

Jack’s final appearance, fittingly for his slightly sleazy nature, finds him rotting away in the back of a seedy porn theatre in Piccadilly Circus, decomposed to the extent that Dunne is now voice-acting only, having been replaced in physical form by a particularly diseased looking animatronic dummy. The jaded Jack is now the de-facto leader of a chorus of corpses in various stages of degeneration, all of whom ghoulishly suggest ways in which David could commit suicide.

Jack is a great character for a number of reasons. Firstly, his close connection with David adds an extra degree of poignancy to the unwitting murders that Jack commits and his ultimate demise; he is giving his friend the best advice he can, but his words of wisdom go unheeded as David gradually loses his grip, eventually succumbing to a barrage of police gunfire; it is worth remembering that at the heart of this story lies the tragic death of two young innocents abroad. As an essentially comic construction however, Jack also strikes just the right note of absurdist humour, simultaneously wry and horrific. Furthermore, in our modern age of bloodless, unemotive CGI, Jack’s appearance (along with David’s spellbinding homo-lupine transition) magnificently showcases a golden age of cinema in which convincing make-up and special effects were a tangible labour of love. Dunne had to sit in make-up for hours each day with Special Effects wizard Rick Baker (Videodrome, Thriller) to achieve the believable look of a man who was certainly dead, but not quite dead enough to preclude him from wandering around the back streets of Soho for a few days.

Jack is portrayed with laid-back elan by Griffin Dunne, a New York actor/director almost certainly best known for his defining lead role in Martin Scorsese’s pitch black 1985 comedy After Hours, in which he essayed a white collar drone way out of his depth in New York’s own SoHo. His performances in these two films can only make one wonder why he didn’t make more of an impact as an actor. After all, how many films can you name in which a sarcastic, decomposing corpse steals the show?